How to Pray to Saints: Here Are Some Tips
“The essence of the perfect friendship is that each friend reveals himself utterly to the other, flings aside his reserves, and shows himself for what he truly is.” (Robert Benson, The Friendship of Christ, Scepter page 26)These words encapsulate the goal of the Christian life; to enter into friendship with Christ.
Unfortunately, the Catholic teaching regarding the saints is often incorrectly interpreted as a stumbling block to friendship with Christ. Many view the saints as intruders. It is believed that the saints somehow stand between Christ and the believer. They interrupt the direct relationship which Christ came to establish and the power of Christ is somehow incorrectly attributed to them rather than Christ. However, this is a misinterpretation of the Church’s teaching on Saints. The gap between creature and creator is so large that no thoughtful person could confuse the two. “It is only those who are doubtful, or at least doctrinally vague as to the absolute deity of Christ, who can conceive it even possible for an intelligent Christian to confound Christ with his mother, or to imagine the creator and creature standing even in the remotest competition to one another.” (Robert Benson, The Friendship of Christ, Scepter page 76).
The real question at issue is whether one can come to know Christ more perfectly through the saints or without them. The resounding answer is that the saints play a pivotal role in our coming to know Christ because they always stand beside Him showing us how to love Him more perfectly. We are first introduced to Jesus as Mary holds Him in her arms. Veronica shows us how to love as she wipes Christ’s face on the road to Calvary. Simeon teaches us to share in Christ’s burden; and Mary, His mother, shows us how to walk beside Him in contemplation His whole life through. Even our very knowledge of Christ in Scripture comes to us through the inspired writings of His saints. In reality, it is hard to draw near to Christ without coming into contact with His saints.
All throughout history the saints stand like sign posts leading us to Jesus. For, “…wherever Jesus Christ is adored as God, there, like flowers from the earth, His friends spring up in their thousands; that where His divinity is doubted or denied, the tide of the supernatural sinks with it…every Catholic knows that the effect of the devotion to the saints is devotion to their divine lover. Thousands have learned first to know and then to love Jesus Christ, from his intimacy with his dear friends, from their self-sacrifice for his sake, from the manner in which his image has been reproduced in their lives, translated from terms of his sacred humanity into terms of their fallen humanity. For how is it possible to make friends with the friends of Christ, without seeking his divine friendship also which inspired them? ” (Robert Benson, The Friendship of Christ, Scepter page 80-81).
But Why do Catholics Pray to the Saints?
You may say, “That's fine. It's natural to run into the friends of Christ, but that doesn't mean we should pray for them. So, why do Catholics pray to the saints?” Many respond to this question by explaining that “Catholics don’t so much pray to the saints as ask them to pray for us.” This is demonstrated by the final words of the Hail Mary, “…Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death.” However, if we examine the term “pray” and its definition, we see that Catholics do, in fact, pray to the saints. And in this post we're going to teach you how to pray to saints. The important point to start with, thought, is that the connotation of the word “pray” in this context is not that of worship, but that of request. Webster’s dictionary defines the word pray as “to make a request in a humble manner” (Webster’s Online Dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pray accessed 10/2/15). When recited in Spanish, the last phrase of the Hail Mary actually uses the verb “rogar” or to beg rather than “orar” to pray. So, yes, Catholics do pray to the saints, but we don't worship them. That's the key point.
It is in this sense that Catholics implore the saints in heaven to join us in making our requests known to God. In reality, it is a simple request to a friend to pray for us. It is no different than asking a friend or family member here on Earth.
So, yes, Catholics do pray to the saints, but we do not worship them. Worship and adoration are meant only for the Persons of the Holy Trinity. That's the key point.
So Why not Just Ask a Friend?
I once explained this to a non-Catholic friend who responded, “but they are dead!” The Catholic tradition, however, flows from the understanding that God “is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32) As such, those who have gone before us are living members of what the church calls the “communion of the saints.” As Catholics, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers.” (CCC 962) Thus we can turn to those in heaven just as we turn to one another, but with a knowledge that the saints “are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is’” (CCC 954) As such, they are uniquely positioned to make our requests known to God because they transcend the separation from God that you and I experience.
What is a Devotion to a Saint?
One should begin by discussing a devotion to the saints by acknowledging that a devotion to the saints or any particular saint is not necessary for salvation. In fact, when I first returned to my Catholic faith, I viewed devotion to the saints as strange. As something that might be fine for others, but not for me.
The word devotion means to have “a feeling of strong love or loyalty” (Webster’s Online Dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/devotion accessed 10/2/15). A saintly devotion then simply refers to feelings of strong admiration which we have for a friend in heaven. These friendships can be of great benefit because “…the effect of the devotion to the saints is devotion to their divine lover…For how is it possible to make friends with the friends of Christ, without seeking his divine friendship also which inspired them? ” (Robert Benson, The Friendship of Christ, Scepter page 80-81).
How Can I Form a Devotion?
There is no right or wrong way to form a devotion to a saint just as there is no right or wrong saint to choose. My suggestion is simply to find a saint you have something in common with. Perhaps they shared a similar struggle but triumphed. In our house, we have chosen our namesakes. Then study their life. Reflect upon the way they would handle the situations you face each day. Then ask them to pray for you when you are in need of assistance. Over time, these three simple practices will lay the foundation of friendship which will draw you closer to Christ.